Chapter 1: Introduction – Solving Disputes for Regional Cooperation and Development in the South China Sea




This chapter is an introduction to the whole book. After setting out the reasons why the author chose to write such a book, the chapter gives an overview of the disputes over the South China Sea and their evolution. It then discusses the causes of the South China Sea issues, and concludes with a sketch of the structure of the book.

Key words

South China Sea disputes

Nansha Islands

Taiping Dao

The South China Sea (SCS) spans 3.5 million square kilometres, and is one of the largest semi-enclosed seas in the world. Rich in living and non-living resources and encompassing vital sea routes linking the Pacific and Indian Oceans (Wu, 2004: 69; Wu and Guo, 2004: 5), the SCS is rife with disputes among littoral states. As it is one of the three potential security flashpoints in the region, the SCS disputes must be handled with prudence.1 International conferences and security dialogues have been held to discuss the potential threats these disputes pose to regional peace and stability, especially the impacts caused by China’s swift rise, which has led to a shift of power balance in the region. Academics have explored many possible approaches. However, this book attempts to look at the problem from a different angle.

Purpose and significance

Six parties have laid claims to the SCS, among which China is the strongest in terms of economic power and largest in geographical size. As such, China is considered by many as the key party to the SCS disputes, and ‘any solution has to be minimally acceptable to it’ (Valencia et al., 1999: 1).

It is important to understand China’s perspectives with regard to the SCS disputes, and to study how China has approached the disputes visà-vis its neighbouring countries to predict its future moves.

This book discusses the SCS disputes from a Chinese perspective by looking at various dimensions, including history, laws, international politics, economics, diplomacy and military affairs. The author hopes not only to demonstrate China’s official position on sovereignty and maritime disputes with regard to the SCS, but also to analyse the factors triggering the emergence and escalation of the SCS disputes.

The author believes that the Nansha Islands (Nansha Qundao in Chinese; commonly called the Spratly Islands in English) are the crux of the SCS disputes; hence this book will focus on discussing the disputes relating to these islands. Where maritime claims are considered relevant to the disputes over the Nansha Islands (Nansha disputes), overlapping claims to maritime zones are described and explored.

The book aims to expound the history of Nansha disputes between China and other countries to help readers better understand the Chinese perspective on the SCS complexities, including competition over sovereignty of the islets, the islands regime and its impact on maritime delimitation, overlapping maritime claims and how adjacent states may cooperate to exploit SCS resources. Although China and other claimants have tried to address the disputes, as countries have competed for energy resources, diplomatic rows and tensions have hampered a timely solution. Governments must now rely on their best wisdom to manage the disputes and create the climate for regional cooperation.

Territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea

Geographic area

When referring to the various land formations in the SCS, most literature inevitably mentions three particular groups of islands and one submerged bank: Xisha Qundao, Nansha Qundao, Dongsha Qundao and Zhongsha Qundao (in English, the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, the Pratas Islands and the Macclesfield Bank respectively).2 Another four island groups are situated in the SCS’s southwestern part: the Anambas, Badas, Natuna and Tambelan Islands. These islands have not attracted the same attention as the previous four groups because they are generally recognised as Indonesia’s sovereign territory (Li and Amer, 2012: 82).

The Nansha Islands are the largest group in the SCS and consist of more than 230 islands, shoals, reefs and banks3 covering an area of 800,000 sq. km.4 In 1983 the Chinese Toponymy Committee publicised the approved names of 189 land formations, comprising 14 islands, six shoals, 113 submerged reefs, 35 underwater sandy beaches and 21 hidden shoals. All the formations are developed from corals, and, based on elevation above sea level, may be classified into five categories: banks, shoals, reefs, cays and sandy islands (Wu, 2005: 4–5). The location of the Nansha Islands was depicted in a reference book published by China’s Xinhua News Agency in 1991 and quoted by Dzurek (1996: 3):

The Nansha Archipelago (in ancient times called Wanli Shitang) is located from 3°37’ to 11°55’ north latitude and 109°43´ to 117°47´ east longitude, stretching south to north approximately 550 nautical miles, and spreading east to west more than 650 nautical miles; its water-territory area exceeds 800,000 square kilometers.

Also important is the SCS water body in which the island group is situated, for the eventual resolution of sovereignty of the land features will affect maritime delimitation among the countries surrounding the SCS. Two issues are likely to increase the tension between the disputants: first, resources in the waters and the seabed; and second, the importance of the SCS to security and trade in Asia, and even around the world.

For the purpose of this book, any reference to the SCS includes the SCS proper and the adjacent water areas, which may be seen as natural extensions of the SCS. The SCS proper is bordered by China to the north, Vietnam to the west, peninsular Malaysia to the southwest, Brunei Darussalam and the two Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak to the south, and the Philippines to the east. The four areas of adjacent waters are the Gulf of Tonkin, located between Vietnam and China, the southern end of which connects to the SCS proper; the Gulf of Thailand, which lies between Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, where the SCS proper flanks its east; the Sulu Sea, which lies between the island of Palawan, Sabah, the Sulu archipelago and the Visayas; and the Straits of Malacca.

Disputes and their evolution

Disputes over the SCS involve many parties, as mentioned earlier, and the crux of the disputes is mainly sovereignty claims over the Nansha features by countries around the SCS.

Before the late 1960s there was no apparent tension over the Nansha Islands, although their ownership was claimed by different dynasties and governments of both China and Vietnam. However, such claims often occurred without the knowledge of the other claimant and seldom did any party resort to force (Chao, 1989/1990: 152). Between the 1930s and 1950s ownership was frequently asserted by other claimants, such as France, Japan and occasionally a private Filipino. Since the 1970s the Philippines and Malaysia have joined the race (ibid.: 152–3).

Disputes between the various countries were further complicated by the entitlement to a 200 nautical mile (nm) exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Brunei published a map of its continental shelf in 1988 to claim 200 nm of EEZ from its coast, from which it laid its claim over Louisa Reef (Nantong Jiao) and Rifleman Bank (Nanwei Tan) of the Nansha Islands as being located within its EEZ (Valencia et al., 1999: 38). Disputes over the political jurisdiction of the Nansha Islands escalated, as China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan established continuous human presence on different small islands and some major reefs. Their military outposts and other facilities demonstrated their seriousness over their sovereignty claims (ibid.: 5).

Competitive occupation of key features has increased, occurring sporadically since the 1950s as countries took turns to stake out their territorial claims to the Nansha Islands. So far, it is estimated that Vietnam has occupied 29 features in the islands, the Philippines eight and Malaysia five (Zhang et al., 2003: 5). Brunei claims sovereignty to Louisa Reef and Rifleman Bank, but has not established any physical presence there. China controls only eight features, with Taiwan occupying Taiping Dao (Itu Aba), the largest feature in the Nansha Islands.

China’s sovereignty claim over the Nansha Islands involves a bilateral dispute with Vietnam for areas that are not claimed by other Southeast Asian countries and a multilateral dispute for areas that are claimed by Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines (Nguyen and Amer, 2007: 310; Valencia et al., 1999: 8).

Under the UNCLOS regime of the EEZ and the continental shelf, it is strategically important to gain sovereignty over any tiny land features of the Nansha Islands. If these features are proven legitimate under the regime of islands, they will generate their own EEZs and continental shelves. Therefore, even before the land features of the Nansha Islands are proven to be qualified to generate EEZs and continental shelves, potential overlapping claims over the waters around the Nansha Islands have become an issue, which certainly intensifies the territorial disputes over the islands.

All the five claimant states to the Nansha Islands ratified UNCLOS before the end of 1996.5 Domestic laws were enacted thereafter, claiming 12 nm of territorial seas, 200 nm EEZs and continental shelves.6 In 2009 all the countries involved in the Nansha disputes made submissions to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) to reserve their rights for possible continental shelf claims beyond 200 nm. Vietnam made a submission relating to the northern-central SCS, and another jointly with Malaysia relating to the southern SCS. The Philippines’ submission was for the seabed areas to the east of Luzon in the Pacific Ocean. Both Brunei and China have provided the CLCS with preliminary information, with full submissions to follow in the future.

According to general belief, the maritime and submarine areas of the SCS contain rich fishery resources and hydrocarbon reserves. Chao (1989/1990: 152) observed that at a time when the importance of natural resources is increasing, delimitation among China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia of maritime and submarine areas containing potential resources would be a source of conflict. Furthermore, pursuit of national interests will hamper quick resolution of sovereignty disputes over the tiny features in the SCS. Samuels (1982: 106) predicted that the introduction of an active Chinese claim would only complicate matters. Since 2009 developments in the SCS have triggered another round of global attention to the Nansha disputes.

Causes of the disputes

Geostrategic position

The SCS is located at an important geostrategic position. As the throat between the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, it links most important trading countries in Asia, America and Europe. Singapore and Hong Kong, two major world ports, are located at its southern and northern entrances. The land features of the Nansha Islands stretch about 1,000 kilometres from the southeast to the northwest in the SCS. Virtually all the principal shipping and air traffic lanes through the SCS pass near or over these island atolls. The proximity of the Nansha Islands to the coastal areas of the littoral states, where ports, cities and industrial zones congregate, underscores the strategic importance of the islands (Castan, 1998: 100). Theoretically, occupation of the Nansha Islands leads to direct or indirect control of most transits from the Straits of Malacca to Japan, from Singapore to Hong Kong and from Guangzhou to Manila (Samuels, 1982: 4), thus these features have a strategic stranglehold over the entire SCS (Castan, 1998: 100; Cordner, 1994: 61; Murphy, 1994/1995: 189).

The sea-lanes of communications (SLOCs) in the SCS are important for trade between Asian countries and other parts of the world. More than half the world’s merchant fleet (by tonnage) sails through the SCS every year, especially through the Straits of Malacca, the second-busiest strait in the world. The number of vessels through the SLOCs here reaches 40,000 annually, and a large percentage of fuel transported by sea from the Middle East and Africa to Japan, China and South Korea passes through the SCS (Yang, 2011: 1).

The importance of the SCS to the claimants of the Nansha Islands cannot be overstated. Samuels (1982: 139) correctly assesses it as an essential corridor linking China with the outside world. Over 90 per cent of China’s foreign trade is seaborne and more than half of its foreign transactions by value occur via the SCS (Nguyen and Amer, 2009: 334).

Samuels (1982: 104) observed that, for the Philippines, the Nansha Islands are strategically important for national security reasons. Filipinos are concerned that the islands are geographically close to the Philippines’ Pueto Prinesa, Palawan, and are afraid of history repeating itself, as Japan used the Nansha features during the Second World War to stage the invasion of the Philippines. Promising petroleum reserves around Reed Bank (Liyue Tan) may also help ease the Philippines’ heavy dependence on energy imports.

The significance of the Nansha Islands to Vietnam was earlier elaborated by a vice-chairman of the French Naval Navigation Committee in the 1930s, who said that it was impossible to ignore the strategic importance of the Xisha and Nansha Islands, and that their occupation by a powerful foreign country would pose a serious threat to the security of Indochina in time of war. He also said that a submarine base constructed within the area could block sea communication to Tourane (Vietnam’s Da Nang) and Trung Ky (Wu, 2005: 3).

Apart from the claimant countries, the disputes could involve the navigational and economic interests of the United States and Japan. Japan receives 75 per cent of its energy requirements from the Middle East transported through these sea-lanes (Joyner, 1999: 66). As Valencia et al. (1999: 7) rightly put it, the importance of the SLOCs through the SCS can only increase over time.

Natural resources

One important thrust in the competition for the Nansha Islands is the actual and potential resources on the islands and in the surrounding waters. Coconut, breadfruit and tung-oil trees have long been cultivated on many of the principal islands, and papaya, pineapple and banana plantations were introduced in the late 1970s (Samuels, 1982: 3).

Fishing remains an important economic activity for all littoral states. The reefs, lagoons and outer waters of the islands are rich in fish, cuttlefish, trepang, oysters and black tuna, and provide an important commercial fishery for these states. Migratory sea tortoise is another attraction to fishermen of those countries. A study indicated that the Nansha Islands area is one of the world’s richest fishing grounds, yielding up to 7.5 tonnes of fish per square kilometre (Joyner, 1999: 66).

In addition, competition for guano supplies from the islands was the cause of considerable tension between China, Japan and French Indochina during the 1920s. Other resources include coral lime, high-silicate sand, gem-quality coral and natural pearls, as well as food delicacies such as birds’ nests and sea slugs (Samuels, 1982: 3).

Murphy (1994/1995: 188), however, observed that in earlier days these resources only attracted occasional exploitation by adventurous fishermen and phosphate miners. Disputes over the Nansha Islands flared in the mid-1970s when states competed for offshore oil reserves, as the Philippines officially claimed sovereignty over part of the islands (Samuels, 1982: 91). Surveys in the 1960s and 1970s indicated a strong possibility of attractive hydrocarbon deposits in the seabed and the likely presence of other mineral deposits such as tin, copper and manganese (Castan, 1998: 99).

In 1968 a report by the Committee for Coordination of Joint Prospecting for Mineral Resources in Asia Off-shore Areas, an organisation established under the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, pointed out that rich petroleum and natural gas reserves existed in the offshore areas along the Vietnamese coastline, in the eastern and the southern parts of the Nansha Islands ECAFE, 1969; Dzurek, 1996: 17). In 1973 Russian seismologists explored and found signs of oil fields off the coast of North Vietnam to the west of the Nansha Islands. In the same year the Philippines embarked on an ambitious campaign of oil exploration off the island of Palawan, which lies to the immediate east of the Nansha Islands (Murphy, 1994/1995: 188).

On seeing major oil strikes around the Nansha Islands, many Southeast Asian countries turned their attention to these tiny land features. On 9 July 1971 Philippines’ Representative Ramon J. Mitra Jr stated in a congressional hearing that the Nansha Islands ‘sit in the middle of what is believed to be a rich deposit’ and pushed for the Philippines to claim sovereignty to part of the islands (Samuels, 1982: 92). At around the same time, similar interests in offshore oil on the western margins of the SCS arose in South Vietnam.

In 1971 18 exploration blocks were mapped for international bidding off the east and southeast coasts of South Vietnam (ibid.; see also Chapter 4). The unified Vietnam expressed its interest in the hydrocarbon resources in a speech by Luu Van Loi, chairman of the Committee of Border Affairs of Vietnam. Luu emphasised Vietnam’s Statement on the Territorial Sea, the Contiguous Zone, the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf of Vietnam on 12 May 1977. He noted the importance of claiming Vietnam’s indisputable sovereignty7 over the EEZ and continental shelf to develop the petroleum and natural gas in the Gulf of Tonkin, especially in Hoang Sa (Xisha Islands) and Truong Sa (Nansha Islands) and their surrounding areas (Luu, 1982: 43).

In 1968 the Malaysian government declared more than 80,000 square kilometres in the Nansha Islands as its ‘mining zone’: the South Luconia Shoals (Nankang Ansha), North Luconia Shoals (Beikang Ansha) and James Shoal (Zengmu Ansha) were included and rented to a US subsidiary of Shell. In 1970 two Malaysian vessels entered the area to conduct drilling operations (Shen, 1997: 63).

The world oil crisis in 1973 further raised the potential significance of the oil reserves in the area around the Nansha Islands and intensified the dispute.

Geopolitical environment

The broader geopolitical environment of the region is one important factor leading to, and thereafter affecting, the process of the disputes over the SCS from the mid-1950s onward (Valencia et al., 1999: 7). Geopolitical issues include power politics among major countries – China, the US and the Soviet Union (now Russia) – and the development of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a regional organisation. Clearly, the disputes carry broad geopolitical implications, much beyond the ownership of scattered tiny islets (Samuels, 1982: 4, 88).

After the Second World War the world was ideologically divided into two spheres: the communist sphere, headed by the Soviet Union, and the non-communist sphere headed by the USA. Such post-war realignment had a strong influence on the Nansha disputes. Although the US and the Soviet Union, the two superpowers, did not occupy any features in the Nansha Islands, they were involved in the disputes to different extents. The balance of power in the SCS area may directly influence the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region and the overall international political order.

Strategically, the US contains China for two reasons. First, according to a report by the US Department of State ([1947] 1973: 776–7), the US should try to prevent the communist forces from gaining a military advantage. Second, since the US government had regarded the People’s Republic of China as the USSR’s important ally before the China-Soviet conflict became public, the US believed that containing China would be to contain the Soviets. To do so, it entered into the South East Asia Defense Treaty with Britain, France, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan in Manila in September 1954. Later, in December the same year, the US signed the Mutual Defense Treaty with Taiwan. From the mid-1950s and throughout the 1960s, the policies and actions taken by mainland China in response to the Nansha disputes were strongly constrained by the American ‘containment policy’ (Samuels, 1982: 88).

Samuels (ibid.: 4, 108) observed that in the 1970s and until the end of Cold War, disputes over the Nansha Islands were deeply entangled in the wider geopolitical web of the Sino-Soviet dispute, as China re-emerged as a ‘great power participant’ in regional and world affairs and the Soviet Union openly supported Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia (Amer, 2004: 116–17). In a meeting in September 1975, Le Duan discussed with Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping the problem of Soviet intervention in the SCS. At the same time Ta Kung Pao, a semi-official publication in Hong Kong, published an article which detailed China’s concerns about the Soviet Union’s possible use of air and naval resupply facilities in Vietnam (Samuels, 1982: 108).

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the regional strategic balance changed dramatically, as the Soviet Union withdrew from Cam Ranh Bay and the United States withdrew from the Philippines (Cordner, 1994: 61). Many thought that the almost simultaneous withdrawal by the two superpowers had left the region with a political and military power vacuum. Meanwhile, as China was emerging as a maritime power (Murphy, 1994/1995: 195), since 2010 the US has also been increasingly interested in the SCS region, and in particular the SCS dispute. The increased US engagement with the disputant countries is now closely scrutinised by the relevant nations.

From the mid-1990s ASEAN has been an important force in promoting security in the SCS region. As a non-claimant in the SCS disputes, ASEAN acted cautiously, playing a greater role as a facilitator in conflict management than in dispute settlement. ASEAN’s positive role in maintaining peace and stability in the SCS region includes facilitating the creation of documents between the ten ASEAN member states and China: the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in 2002, and the Guidelines for Implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2011.

Development of the laws of the sea

Although utilisation of the seas in shipping and fishing began in ancient times, the emergence of order for different uses is a matter of modern times. Efforts at maintaining order over the seas result in the creation of laws governing the sea and the unification of its different uses. As science and technology developed rapidly, different countries expanded their scope of activities at sea. Non-living resources such as petroleum, natural gas and metal in the seabed were explored and exploited from the early 1900s. Increased sea activities, depletion of living resources and competition for hydrocarbon resources led to conflicts between the different uses of the sea and between countries at different stages of development. Thus it became necessary to draw up a new oceans treaty to regulate relations between countries regarding the different uses of the seas to maintain the international ocean order. During the creation of this new legal order, Western countries influenced much the shaping of the modern international legal regime of the seas. The first international conference on the law of the sea was held in 1958 and four conventions were then passed: the Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone, the Convention on the High Seas, the Convention on Fishing and Conservation of the Living Resources of the High Seas and the Convention on the Continental Shelf. However, the four conventions were still inadequate in the resolution of increasing conflicts of interests among various states. The second law of the sea conference was convened in 1960. Unfortunately, as the two conferences were held within a short span of time, most countries more or less held the same position. Ten years later it was decided at the twenty-fifth General Assembly of the United Nations in 1970 that the third conference on the law of the sea would be held in 1973. After nearly ten years of negotiation, UNCLOS was passed in 1982 and came into force on 28 July 1994. But despite contributing to better management and utilisation of the sea, UNCLOS has, unfortunately, created new problems.

The 1982 UNCLOS codifies the ‘bundle of rights’ accruing to a state that has territorial sovereignty over an island or a group of islands. The most important is the exclusive right to exploit the resources of the seabed surrounding an island or archipelago (Murphy, 1994/1995: 189). Under UNCLOS a state holding territorial sovereignty over an island is allowed to establish a 12 nm territorial sea (Article 3) and a 200 nm EEZ around the island (Article 57). If the state has territorial sovereignty over an entire archipelago and becomes an archipelagic state, it has the right to draw a straight baseline between the outermost islands and will have sovereignty over the resources of the seabed within the area enclosed by that baseline (Articles 47 and 49). The implications of territorial sovereignty over the islands which satisfy Article 121 of UNCLOS are clear, and the potential gain of oil and gas resources tends to spark territorial disputes when competing for land features in the seas; and for the purposes of this book, the Nansha Islands.

Besides the problems of overlapping claims between countries with opposite or adjacent coasts, to which the EEZ and continental shelf regimes might lead, there are several inherent weaknesses in UNCLOS which also result in discrepancies in state practice whenever the relevant provisions are invoked.

First, to accommodate the different concerns of all state parties during the discussions leading to the codification of UNCLOS, compromises had to be made and this resulted in ambiguous wording in some provisions. Countries have interpreted and applied the provisions in their best interests, and this has led to discrepancy or even conflicts in interpretation or application of the provisions.

Second, UNCLOS does not provide for ‘historical waters’ or ‘historical rights’. Lack of consideration for historical evidence on maritime jurisdiction may lead to contradictions between UNCLOS and other international law principles such as historical rights. The Nansha dispute is a case in point, as discussed in detail in Chapter 2.

Third, regarding dispute settlement relating to the interpretation and application of UNCLOS, Part XV only provides for general principles, and disputants are left to interpret as they see fit. Interpretation and application discrepancies have led to contradictions in state practices, hence maritime disputes.

These factors continue to influence the development of the Nansha disputes. Issues relating to sovereignty, maritime rights and national jurisdiction are difficult to resolve even between states with close bilateral relations. As a key actor in the relevant disputes, China has expressed concern over the stability of the SCS and has a vested interest in promoting better relations with neighbouring ASEAN countries (Buszynski and Sazlan, 2007: 155). Direct communication and functional cooperation will help build the confidence among all claimants which is conducive to a final resolution.

Structure of the book

For consistency and easy understanding, the names of relevant land features in the book will be in English, unless otherwise specified. A guide to place names in English and other languages is offered in the Appendix.

The book consists of seven chapters. Chapter 2 elaborates on China’s arguments to its claim of sovereignty over the Xisha and Nansha Islands. Historical facts are provided. China was the first country to discover and name these island groups. In addition, the SCS islands remained within China’s sphere of administration until the colonial occupation. Furthermore, China has maintained sovereignty over the island groups by protesting and fighting against foreign invaders. Chapter 3 assesses the SCS disputes from a legal perspective, based on the principles and applicable norms of international law. Such assessment includes title to discovery, continuous administration and recognition by the international community and certain claimant countries in respect of China’s sovereignty over the disputed islands. Also assessed are the consolidation of China’s claims through protests and other coercive measures, critical dates, China’s claims to maritime areas adjacent to the islands and issues relating to challenges to China’s claims.

Chapters 46 describe sovereignty claims by other states – Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei – to all or part of the Nansha Islands and other relevant maritime claims, and analyse the basis of these claims and elaborate their flimsiness. The claimant states have tried to create better conditions for eventual resolution of the disputes. Although the disputes over the Nansha Islands and the SCS are regarded as the most complicated in respect of the countries involved and issues concerned, the SCS region remains reasonably peaceful. However, the countries concerned must do more, especially after considering the relevant developments.

Chapter 7, the final chapter, follows up from the previous chapters on bilateral efforts for dispute resolution to expound the recent developments in the SCS disputes. Increasing involvement of third-party countries is included in the analysis. The book concludes that addressing the challenges requires disputant countries to go further in creating a conducive atmosphere for the eventual resolution of the disputes, and proactive regional cooperation so that peace and security can be maintained in the SCS.

1The other two flashpoints are the Taiwan issue and the Korean peninsula issue.

2‘Islands’ (qundao in Chinese) has been used to identify the four groups of land formations in the South China Sea, and carries different meanings from the legal terms that appear in the law of the sea documents.

3Depending on source used, different scholars have provided a different figure for the number of land features in the South China Sea. For example, ‘The Spratlys are an archipelago of some 300 reefs, atolls and islets located in the southern region of the South China Sea’ (queryCastan, 1998).

4Scholars have given several different figures for the area covered by the Nansha Islands. For example, Shen (2002: 97) gives a figure of 250,000 sq. km and Dzurek (1996: 1) a figure of 240,000 sq. km. Also Dzurek (ibid.: 1, n. 4) noticed that Vietnamese sources give an area of 160,000-180,000 sq. km while Chinese authorities estimate an area of 800,000 sq. km.

5Among the five claimants, the Philippines was the first to ratify the 1982 UNCLOS in May 1984, followed by Vietnam in July 1994. The other three countries ratified UNCLOS in 1996: China in June, Malaysia in October and Brunei in November.

6For details on different domestic laws of China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei see Chapters 36 of this book.

7It should be noted that the word ‘sovereignty’ in the original Vietnamese version might be misused. For an EEZ and a continental shelf a country is entitled to only ‘sovereign rights’ but not ‘sovereignty’